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European travellers battle new Christmas chaos

planes trains and automobiles
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 23, 2009
Thousands of Eurostar passengers anxious to get away for Christmas battled for train places out of London on Wednesday as heavy rains and freezing conditions sparked yet more travel chaos across Europe.

At least three people died in road accidents in Britain and northern Italy overnight after heavy snowfall, while frozen airports sparked further flight delays and a Ryanair jet slid off the runway in Scotland.

Meanwhile floodwaters drenched most of Venice, as a combination of wind, rain and the lagoon city's periodic tidal phenomenon saw water levels rise by 143 centimetres (56 inches), a record for the year, officials said.

In London, thousands of people left stranded by a three-day Eurostar service cancellation formed long queues at Saint Pancras International station in the hope of finally getting to the continent.

Tempers frayed amid confusion over who would get priority on the reduced number of trains that began running Tuesday.

"It's a nightmare," said Olivia Roman, a 28-year-old civil servant who began queuing at 6:00am to get back to Paris.

Emmanuel Orejas, 41, a Belgian businessman who had been waiting for two days with his family, also expressed frustration that he was not given priority over passengers who had not been delayed.

"We have been left without knowing anything for several days. And now they are opening the doors to all passengers," he told AFP.

All Eurostar's trains for Wednesday filled up by lunchtime. The operator said it would continue to run a modified timetable on Thursday. Passengers were urged to turn up an hour early.

"This will enable Eurostar to allocate seating on the trains. This will also minimise queuing for our travellers," Eurostar said, adding that it was confident it could clear the backlog in time for Christmas.

The situation in Paris was less fraught, with seats available for everybody wishing to travel, a Eurostar spokeswoman there said, adding that about 26,000 places would be available over the day.

The normally high-speed Channel Tunnel service was brought shuddering to a halt Friday by what a British spokesman called a fall of fluffier-than-expected snow, as the cold snap brought chaos to the rest of the transport network.

Most European airports were back to normal Wednesday, a day after hundreds of flights were scrapped across western Europe, although budget airline easyJet announced dozens more cancellations at British airports due to snow.

Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair confirmed that one of its flights from Dublin carrying six crew and up to 189 passengers skidded off the runway while taxiing at Glasgow Prestwick airport. It slid onto a grass verge, but nobody was hurt.

British Airways said it cancelled some short-haul flights at Heathrow Airport because of fog, but flights were operating normally at Gatwick.

Delays continued at Milan Malpensa airport in northern Italy after heavy snow, while bad weather was blamed for a traffic pile-up in the northwest of the country late Tuesday in which one person died and about 30 were injured.

Two women were also killed in Britain late Tuesday when the bus they were travelling in flipped over on an icy road in Cornwall, southwest England, police said. A further 47 passengers were injured in the crash.

Heavy rains closed motorways in southern Spain and Portugal, where power lines were also cut by heavy winds overnight. Snowfall also forced school closures in northern Spain.

Meanhwhile a seven-year-old boy was stopped by police in Reinfeld, northern Germany, driving back to a parking lot having ploughed the snow off the street with his parents' front loader.

"He opened the door, got out and admitted immediately that he did not have a driving licence," the police report said.

burs-tha/ach

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Sarkozy orders Eurostar to end Paris-London rail chaos
Paris (AFP) Dec 21, 2009
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered Eurostar to get its trains back on track by Tuesday after a shutdown blamed partly on "fluffy" snow caused misery for tens of thousands of travellers. Eurostar said services between London and Paris could partially resume on Tuesday morning if test runs on trains "go well", but that schedules would not get back to normal before Christmas on Friday ... read more







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